Scoring the Iowa Debate
How did the candidates do?


An NRO panel of experts assess the Republican candidates’ performances on Thursday night in Des Moines.

David Brody
So much for Ronald Reagan’s “Eleventh Commandment” that says, “Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Tim Pawlenty was the biggest violator last night, but guess what? It worked. I thought it was pretty clear that he won the night.

Let’s be clear: Pawlenty had to make a move last night. He hasn’t shown much progress in national polls even though he’s working extremely hard and has an impressive legislative résumé. He needed to do something to shake things up and by going after Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney he showed a tenacity that had been sorely lacking. Since Pawlenty is a hockey player, maybe he went to before the debate to get all riled up. Only time will tell if Pawlenty’s performance last night will make a difference, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him receive a nice little bounce from the debate.

As for the other candidates, I thought Michele Bachmann had yet another strong performance. She looked very calm and self-assured up there. The key for Bachmann is to stay focused on the issues and make no mistakes. She succeeded on both counts.

Mitt Romney continued to stroll along. As much as Pawlenty and a few others take shots at him, Romney seems to have an answer for all of it. As the saying goes, “Never let them see you sweat.” Well, Romney has been cool as a cucumber. Rick Perry may change that situation in a hurry.

— David Brody is White House correspondent for CBN News. 

Jamie M. Fly
For national-security conservatives following the GOP primary process thus far, ascertaining where candidates stand on foreign policy has been a frustrating endeavor. With a few exceptions, such as Governors Pawlenty and Romney, most have had little to say about national-security issues, and those who tend to be the most vocal often tout extremist views that put them well outside of the mainstream.

The discussion of foreign policy in last night’s debate was an improvement over June’s debate on CNN, where important issues such as Afghanistan and the war on terror were relegated to barely ten minutes at the end with very little back and forth between the candidates. The exchange tonight provided more of an opportunity for candidates to make their views known, but unfortunately ended up primarily showcasing Rep. Ron Paul’s ridiculous notion that Iran is not a significant threat to the United States or its allies.

It was also Paul who brought up national security even when it was not the topic — complaining repeatedly about American “militarism” and calling for cuts to defense spending.

Continuing to include Paul and his mob of vocal supporters at Republican debates makes the GOP look unserious. It would be as if Bernie Sanders were allowed to grace the stage at Democratic-party events and promote his socialist vision for America to a cheering crowd.  

Compounding the problem, some in the Tea Party movement now seem to be following Paul’s recipe for American decline. Staffers from several of the largest Tea Party organizations, including FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots, told The Hill on Wednesday that defense cuts should be considered by the debt-limit “supercommittee.”

Their willingness to sacrifice U.S. national security and America’s global responsibilities to further their small-government agenda is shameful and could cause the Republican party to cede its decades-long credibility on national-security issues.

Americans may be focused on fiscal problems at home, but the Republican party needs a nominee in 2012 who can challenge Barack Obama’s disastrous foreign-policy record as well as his mishandling of the economy.

Instead of showing that they can keep Americans safe and advance America’s interests abroad, far too many on the right seem interested in running to the left of Obama on national security. This attempt to morph the party of Reagan into that of Carter is not only dangerous, it raises questions about whether the GOP has a candidate ready to fulfill perhaps the most important and sacred presidential duty.

— Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.